The Prehistoric Artefacts of Northern Ireland

Review by C McSparron.

This book is a comprehensive catalogue of finds of artefacts made by archaeologists, antiquarians, and members of the public over centuries in Northern Ireland. It records discoveries from excavations, field-walking, stray finds, and material from museum and institutional collections. The area considered, Northern Ireland, is not ancient, and people might ask if it is a meaningful archaeological area of study, but this is the companion volume to two earlier Northern Ireland-focused volumes, both of which were funded by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency: Built Heritage (now the Historic Environment Division).

The book opens with a short history of prehistoric archaeology in Northern Ireland, useful for those perhaps unaware of the century of discovery, scholarship, and curation by universities, museums, and government agencies that has left Northern Ireland with an exceptional archaeological record and understanding of prehistory. A methodology chapter discusses what is being catalogued and why, along with the dating and naming conventions used. The authors then collate and summarise Northern Ireland’s artefactual record, producing an ordered and comprehensive inventory that is difficult to fault. Sorted by county and townland, the book lists discoveries with detailed information on provenance, artefact descriptions, line drawings, photos, radiocarbon dates, and SMR (Sites and Monuments Record) and bibliographic references as appropriate. A short discussion chapter raises some very interesting points about the frequency of archaeological discoveries over the last century, and the types of find made, along with clear distribution maps of some of the artefact types.

This is a wonderful resource, which should be in the library of every serious student of Irish prehistory, and it will be of particular utility to those archaeologists involved in planning, excavation licensing, commercial archaeology, and research. If I might make one suggestion to the authors, however, which I think could enhance the book’s utility as a research resource, it is that they could consider providing the inventory as a spreadsheet file to those who have purchased the book. The ability to sort the inventory by other types of data would be a fabulous addition to an already excellent volume.

The Prehistoric Artefacts of Northern Ireland, Harry and June Welsh, Archaeopress, £65, ISBN 978-1789699531.